Podcast Transcript: IT’s Role in Mission-Critical Enterprise Solutions with Cisco’s Sri Srinivasan


Cisco’s Sri Srinivasan joined the ConnectedOps Visionaries podcast

John Carione: Hi, I’m John Carione, your host of ConnectedOps Visionaries, and I’m pleased to introduce our guest today, Sri Srinivasan, a key business development leader at Cisco Systems Global Internet of Things Business Unit. Sri has been instrumental in helping lead Cisco’s market share growth by leveraging emerging IOT products and solutions in a start-up environment. Cisco has more than 67,000 IOT customers globally, offering a very broad IOT portfolio to help organizations securely connect their assets, vehicles, applications, and data, all in real time to accelerate business change. So, super excited. Hey Sri, thanks so much for joining us today, really glad to have you on the show here.

Sri Srinivasan: Thank you, John, for the invitation. I guess first, happy new year to you and to all of the listeners. I know 2020 has been a crazy year for everybody in a lot of parts of the world. So, once again, thank you.

John Carione: Yeah, well said, thanks a lot. On this podcast, ConnectedOps Visionaries, we love to talk to leaders like yourself that are really pioneering the next generation of solutions and helping individuals and teams and data, and connecting operations across what always seems to be somewhat of a disconnected and siloed experience, and downstream, that always ends up with an unoptimized customer experience, so if you connect your operations and your data and your communications internally, we think that really extends to bring a much better connected operations customer experience when you think about customer journeys. So, we’re super excited to hear about how Cisco is innovating in the areas of IOT and get some of your thoughts on the future of the market, and maybe to kick off, some of your views on how you think about connected operations in terms of more of the vehicle asset and field operations side, and how they all come together, and maybe tell us a little bit more about your role at Cisco and some of your goals for the group in 2021.

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, good place to start. First, from a role perspective, I am a global leader in what we call our IOT business unit within Cisco. I’ve been here about five years, and the thing that I really love about, and I’ll get into, connected transportation or transportation and fleet in general, the thing I love about both what I’ve been learning and what I’ve been doing is two-fold: one is the challenge that you just mentioned between IT and OT, right, to actually see it in action, and then the second part is actually how to bring them together, because without that, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem. No one side can solve the problem in its entirety – and when I say entirety, it’s tough to get to 100%, but to greater than 70%, 80%, where our customers, in this case, you and I, who use all modes of transportation around the world, how do we have a better experience? From an opportunity perspective, when we look at vehicles or when we look at transportation, the thought of that summary or the caption that I like to look at is, there will be more vehicles with more sensors in them, and then there will be, because of more vehicles and more sensors, there’s more data coming out of it, right? So, what is the answer to that, right? While there are more vehicles on the road, is our infrastructure growing at the same pace? Not really, but on a positive side, vehicles like a lot of the new EVs that have come out have probably more than 17, 18 cameras in them, so they’re more intelligent than what they were before, right? How do we use that effectively to give a better experience? And, when I say experience, it can be safety, it can be monetization, it can be new services, whatever that might be, right, depending on what that business is. So, yeah, I’m pretty excited that I’m here working with IntelliShift and other leaders in this space and trying to solve these difficult problems. We have to come together, again, as a group, where we bring our talents, our strengths, on both sides, and then come together to solve this bigger issue that we have in front of us.

John Carione: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s dig into that a little bit more. I know you guys have – we highlighted 67,000+ customers, it’s a huge slew of customers using IOT, clearly one of the leaders, and I know you’re building a broad portfolio and looking into leading edge technologies like artificial intelligence, etcetera, and it seems like you really are focused on transportation, manufacturing, utilities. I would love to get your perspective on the market landscape; with all of those customers, you’re probably trying to figure out what some of the core, most difficult, in some senses, challenges to solve are, because as we all know, the more difficult a challenge you solve, the more value to the customer you provide. So, can you give us a little taste of sort of either over the past year or looking forward, what are some of the key challenges these organizations you talk to are facing?

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, obviously several challenges, and it depends on what phase the customer or the partner is, and what I mean by that is, you know, when we look at IOT, and when we look at transportation in particular, if you were to take just a quick glimpse of the landscape, right, obviously you have public roads, transportation, DOTs, you have municipalities, you have vehicle car makers, you have sensor makers, so there’s a lot of organizations and lots of institutions that are actually making a transportation dream possible, right, but everyone has a different set of challenges. So, at Cisco, what we did was – this was about a few years ago, we took a little hard look at it, and started simplifying it, right. I personally like that KISS mode, that keep it stupid and simple kind of a thing, which is when we look at it, two things, it’s like let’s simplify the problem – sorry, simplify the architecture. When we simplify the problem/architecture, what we found out was there’s a whole bunch of things that need to be connected securely, if I can add, and from all of that, we need to be extracting data, the right data, and selling it to the right places, right? So, right data and right places, and then going back to what you just talked about, and I think I also alluded, that these vehicles are blobs, as we can all it, I mean, they’re generating tons and tons of data, so how do you know what is right versus wrong? So, that was one, when we looked at it from an architecture perspective, and then the second thing is, what can Cisco really add value in that, if you can call it an ISO model, a poor man’s ISO model from an OT perspective, and what we found out was our strengths, at the end of the day, for the last 30 or 40 years we’ve been doing is networking, and it’s in secure networking, so you know what? Let’s see what we can do from a secure networking perspective, and then the second thing is, data is something that we all love, and we know how hedge processing is another important component, so leveraging hedge processing in our brands and products and solutions that we’re putting, and the last bit is the actual partnership, in this case, with IntelliShift. So, our answer to this, or our part of what we can solve in the large Lego pieces, hey, we are industry leaders in providing secure networking, we can provide hedge processing, and then we will do partnerships with other software vendors, you know, AI partners, or data analytics engines, whoever they are, right, and that way, we can produce this cohesive solution. At the same time, we will make sure that we work with the DOTs and the standards bodies to start, you know, figuring out how to…I don’t want to say reduce competition, but actually make sure that it’s the standardized way of computing and communicating from a sensor perspective. That’s where we sit today.

John Carione: It makes a lot of sense. When you think about siloed data, especially in the transportation space, are there any issues you’re hearing from your customers about where those siloes are really causing problems the most, whether it’s safety, information back to the back office and finance, or safety and maintenance, for instance? That’s what we’re hearing on our end. Are there any particular challenges that come up more often than not?

Sri Srinivasan: Well, you know, one is when we talk from a silo perspective, and this is something I would love to hear from you, John, also, is the technology departments in a lot of these transportation use cases, for transportation customers, and specifically focusing on DOTs here, right? They don’t have a large technology department presence, right, so for them to be able to solve all of the problems that are coming on the operations side, it’s a very tough thing. The second thing is, from an operations perspective, when you talk safety and security, it’s very different for them. The same word means, in IT security, what is key is not key in OT security. In IT security, you’re talking about I’m protecting my data, I don’t want people to come and steal this data. In OT security, you’re like, yeah, I want to share the data, but then I want to share the data with the right recipient on the other side, I just don’t want to blast it. So, when we start talking about it, going back to your siloed question, when we bring those two folks to the room, we start a conversation, like, “Okay, let’s talk about safety and security,” and we miss an opportunity – I’ve learned the hard way, I’ve talked about this, and then we miss that. On the left side of the table, what they’re hearing about safety and security, and the right side of the table, what they’re hearing about safety and security, are completely different. So, we need to go to the next level and say, “Guys, what is the solution when it comes to IT security? What is the solution when it comes to OT security?” The second aspect is the correlation, right? Like, how do you teach correlation? I’ll give you an example, this was a while ago, we were in one of the cities in the south, and what they were trying to solve from a transportation perspective was pedestrian safety; it’s a huge, very, very important goal, I mean, you want to reduce pedestrian deaths in crosswalks, and for that to happen, you need sensor data, vehicle data, technology, all of that stuff to happen so that you can notify that passenger or that particular pedestrian and say, “Hey wait, a car is coming.” For that to happen in action effectively all the time, it has to be a very coordinated, and you can’t skip a millisecond here or there.

John Carione: Yeah, no, that’s interesting. It’s really focused on dash cam technologies and implementing new AI solutions to understand when folks are drowsy or using the accelerator meters in the vehicles to understand if there’s a hard lane change. It’s almost like the other side of the coin, so the driver understands when that pedestrian is moving into the street, so to speak, and there’s alerts and notifications. So, you really need safety from each of the personas’ perspectives, so I see that kind of coming together.

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, the other thing is, you know, there’s a lot of conversation, I don’t know where it is right now, from a roadside intelligence, roadside infrastructure perspective, the vehicle-to-vehicle communication, I mean, that’s another huge aspect that we have to think, especially when we think fleet and transportation, and then – I’ll generally call this operational efficiency, right? Like if you are managing a fleet of I don’t know, 6,000 vehicles, right, so how do you make sure that all of your 6,000 vehicles, or let’s say you use about 80% of them, or 70% of them, they are in service and there are no break downs, or there are not any…again, safety from that perspective, right, like your vehicle breaks down, or a public safety vehicle actually breaks down in an area, and you’re not able to ensure the safety of the passengers. So, when you talk safety, there are just so many intricate levels of safety that we need to make sure that the problem is solved.

John Carione: Yeah, that’s probably a good time to take a quick step back because you talked about IT, information technology, and OT, you know, even your ability to kind of explain to the audience how do you define IT and OT operations separately, and how do you see IT organizations working with operational departments going forward?

Sri Srinivasan: Just so that people understand what I mean by IT and then what I mean by OT, you know, IT is your office applications, you know, the typical technology that you would use to function in a carpeted space, if I can use that word, OT is anything that is outside the carpeted space, right? Sometimes, I know there is always an overlap, but just in general, anything that is outside a carpeted space, anything that is very essential from an infrastructure perspective. So, when we start talking about that, what I would like to say is when we bring those two folks into the room and talk about how we are going to approach the problem, typically what we do is we sort of start ground-up. Another strategy is to go use case down, I think that is absolutely always essential, but we’ve done both, right? Hey, let’s start ground up. What are you doing from a process perspective? What do you have today? What is the architecture? Then, we say, hey, what are you trying to solve? What are your ultimate goals? The challenge is, everybody, when we start talking top-down, it doesn’t matter who you talk to, the rhetoric is the same, right? Hey, I want a better passenger experience; I want better citizen safety; I want operational efficiency. But, I’m not saying that is all wrong, it’s all great, but what is different? One of the things that we realized is between state to state, between DoT to DoT, there is not a lot of difference; the difference is where you are from a starting point perspective. Where is IOT today? Where is OT today? How many knowledgable people do you have both on IT and OT sides that understand each other, right? IT understanding operational discipline, OT understanding that IT can actually help them in some of these areas. How many people do you have that sort of can cross-pollinate between each other? And, that’s when the fun starts, when you actually have that tighter group, like these two working together, you’ll be surprised how fast these projects move.

John Carione: Yeah, excellent. I want to dive a little bit deeper into that one concept you talked about, on carpet, off carpet, so to speak. So, when you’re thinking about the future, and how these operations – thinking about field services and remote work out in the field, and how organizations really need to extend the enterprise office, things like corporate networks and systems and productivity tools and everything that happens inside the enterprise office and all of the data for mission critical, transactional, ERP systems and things, extending them out to field personnel, understanding the value of their assets and where they’re moving, and of course, you know, vehicles and other things. What are some of the first things that folks need to think about from kind of sort of a best practices perspective when they think about trying to extend that mission critical data out to the field to drive those efficiencies you talked about?

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, so, we had the challenge – I want to say probably two, three years ago, when we started talking about where should people start with this complicated problem? What’s the starting point, right? And, I myself, just in this, whatever, 30 seconds ago, I said, “Hey, you can start top down, you can start bottom up,” but let’s say you have the right people in the room, where do you start the conversation? So, what we did was we came up with a little marketing there, but we came up with this terminology calling us the extended enterprise, right? Just think of…I’ll just take an example and see if it follows through. So, if you have a set of fleets, let’s say you have whatever, a hundred city buses. First, why don’t you, instead of talking about passenger safety, passenger experience, all the stuff that we talked about, right, vehicle efficiency, all of that stuff we talk about, take this approach that we came up with that we are advocating, is how about we extend a similar technology that is in the office space, in the carpeted space, into the vehicle, meaning outside the carpeted space, for example, wireless, right? We don’t have to talk about anything about why we want to do it; all I am is suggesting in, let’s say this workshop, is how about we provide wireless connectivity, not to your customers, just to your employees, to your drivers, to your users in the buses? We’re just extending the enterprise. It just so happens a bus also becomes an enterprise, treated that way. If that works, well, that’s okay, that’s step one. Now, you start treating those assets as remote and mobile assets, right? Now, what would you do with remote and mobile assets? Obviously, your remote and mobile assets, you would treat them very differently than your PCs and your services, that you’re already there in the carpeted space, how do you maintain them, how do you secure them, all of that stuff – completely different, right? So, where I’m going with this is, it’s a thought process where we take our core strengths that we have in IT, and we extend that to outside IT, but still leveraging the same IT principles, and that actually brings IT and OT, I want to say, at least I want to say bullishly that it brings them together, at least there is a starting point for them to come together, otherwise it’s a bit of a north and south conversation, right? Hey, I want operational efficiency. It’s like, but you don’t have Wi-Fi. That’s like ships passing, nobody is understanding each other. What does Wi-Fi have got to do with operational efficiency?

John Carione: Yeah, any particular areas of collaboration between IT and the operations teams that you’re seeing directly affect the bottom line or the top line, or even maybe more importantly, ultimately the customer experience?

Sri Srinivasan: I mean, specifically if I were to say, I think first is realizing that both of them can add value and need to come together to solve this problem right now, right? I mean, the siloes have to be broken, there needs to be a new way of doing things, otherwise there will always be budget constraints on both sides, or lack of innovation on both sides, and both of them are going to continue doing what they’re doing, number one. Number two, just organizationally, I want to say everywhere where we’ve had customers or companies that have leveraged this chief digitization officers, or an IT/OT convergence initiative, what is that, right? People, very specifically, top-down have realized that these two organizations need to come together; they structure it that way, also. I’ve seen in some organizations where both of them actually report to a CIO, or both of them report to a COO so there’s a leadership mantra that they can actually follow, and then it’s a top-down approach. Those are the two things that come to mind for me right now.

John Carione: Yeah, and I think in our market, it’s definitely evolving as it has in other software markets, as far as the IT and generally the business and operations needing to really focus on their strengths and partner better to get better results. There’s a lot of systems that have been implemented over six to nine months, and honestly, were never even adopted internally, so I think that especially happens when your mission critical software is being delivered to connect across departments, you really need best practices around quicker implementations and quicker time to value to get people on board with adopting the technology and getting the most out of it, and I see even in our market that IT’s role is changing. So, over the last decade, traditional telematics, you know, it really had a buyer that was focused on a fleet operations leader, they knew exactly the solution they were trying to solve around geo location  and mapping, but as it’s now connecting across from operations to safety to maintenance to finance and IT in the back office, these solutions are becoming more mission critical, they’re harder to solve, they involve more parties, and when that happens, we’re seeing IT needing to take a bigger seat at the table in the buying process and even the roll out and adoption process, so layering in security and compliance and governance, and understanding how you integrate across to other systems and maintaining data integrity of those systems, especially if you’re connecting back to ERP or CRM for more mission critical, higher order use cases, higher value, so IT, to me, it seems like their role is really changing, and they’re partnering more deeply for more mission critical, more complex solutions. I just wanted to see if you’re seeing something similar.

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, it’s interesting you talked about ERP and collaboration. I’m trying to think when we did it, but anyway, here’s what we attempted to do, or at least from an architecture perspective, again, it’s about connecting everything, IOT, connecting everything. Here’s an architecture that we presented to, I think it was a mining customer, so they have a ton of fleets out there, and all remote, right, very remote and heavy mining equipment, and when there are two big aspects in that aspect, right? Number one, the person who is actually operating that machinery, and the machinery itself. Wouldn’t it be awesome that if you are able to protect, basically making sure that the person operating is operating correctly, and then the machine in itself is in a good state so it doesn’t break and impact itself and the person operating it? So, we put in an architecture where all of these are connected, and there is a continuous two-way data exchange that is going on, and if we see a problem, I mean, before it becomes a safety or a security issue, when we see a problem, we’re able to immediately alert the supervisor, a peer next to him, start a collaborating called something like this, start a video call and say, “Hey, wait, this machine is not going in the right direction, it’s tilting incorrectly,” immediately bring all the experts together and before it becomes a problem, stop the problem from becoming worse, or stop the problem even from happening, and that is all only possible if you are able to connect all of these resources securely, and have the back end applications, also, which you talked about, which becomes sort of the business prospect aspect of it.

John Carione: Yeah, we’re seeing the market move from great technology, but still a little bit reactive and moving very quickly towards more proactive and prescriptive, and obviously technologies like AI allowing that to happen and automate some of those notifications much more quickly. So, we have time for a couple more topic areas, get your thoughts on before we wrap up, but I wanted to talk a little bit about sort of the partnership, and obviously IntelliShift offers software for manging enterprise fleet operations that we believe compliments Cisco’s leading enterprise networking technology, and now we actually have IntelliShift software that runs on Cisco Vehicle-Based Routers that you talked about before. How is Cisco thinking about getting all of the OT and IT stakeholders together in a room to discuss these different use cases of this type of joint partnership and those key business problems we’ve been talking about?

Sri Srinivasan: Thank you, yeah, I would be amiss if I didn’t speak about it. So, this was about a year, or two years ago in the making, but about a year ago, when I started talking about how we all need to come together, this is not just one side, having the end-to-end capability to solve the problem, what we found out was, in this case, IntelliShift is a great example where they have an industry-leading software that can actually provide a great amount of fleet management, it’s a cloud-based platform that can actually provide a good amount of fleet management advantage for these kinds of companies, but you wanted a good networking security partner to run that software on. So, what we did was created a program called the Cisco Design-In Program where partners like you can actually become Cisco partners and definitely acquire the hardware, acquire the necessary products that you need from the IOT perspective, which, in this case, becomes Cisco’s trends, and then add on your intellectual property and your incentives and your services to it, and then sell a joint solution to your customers. Not doing that once, but doing that at scale, right, that was the goal of that stuff. So, we’re very happy, from a Cisco perspective, that IntelliShift has joined the program, and as you mentioned, that you already have your software certified and running on our fleet-certified devices, and our goal is to continue to grow this partnership in the other set of products that we’re working on, that we would be launching, and you, along with us, providing the joint solution to your customers.

John Carione: Yeah, and like we talked about before, everything is about, nowadays, time to value and KPIs and ensuring you get to success quickly, iterate, and get more success. What’s your perspective on working with these partner organizations to drive these joint solutions we’re building that really satisfy end-user needs and drive the adoption really quick to get the most maximum value as fast as possible?

Sri Srinivasan: One thing that we’re doing, one is the partnership in itself, right, that we are doing. The second thing, through the partnership, what we are able to do, and this is a great example of that, right? We can do a lot of these joint marketing efforts, right, whether it is podcasts, blogs, social media presence, putting together, yes, we’re in some interesting times that we can’t be in trade shows and seminars, but yes, that will start happening where we can start showcasing these joint solutions. All that is one thing; the second thing is enablement, right? We have a very strong partner ecosystem. Cisco’s market model is through partners, and we want to leverage that ecosystem and enable them with these joint solutions, like in this case, IntelliShift’s solution to our partner community, so when they go and experience a use case that, you know, needs a solution that we already have, they don’t have to start from scratch, right? It almost becomes like a marketplace, and I want to use that word very carefully, it almost becomes a marketplace where we can lean on each other to deliver – yes, every solution needs a little bit of tweaks and customization, but the goal is not to start from scratch for every use case, or a similar use case, in every part of the globe and in every customer case. So, enablement is another great thing that we’re going to do. I mean, we’re just getting started, it’s been about a year.

John Carione: Yeah, great stuff. Well, I know we’re up against time. We usually end the podcast, it’s really been great having you, asking our leaders one specific question you can answer. We have three questions, so it’s your choice. We ask advice you wish someone had given you, any advice you wish you’d taken but you didn’t, or any advice that you did take but wish you hadn’t.

Sri Srinivasan: Ah, okay. To me, I wish someone had told me more about these OT challenges when I took on this role. I mean, even though I used to cover the utilities, I was very naïve about that OT world, you know, I was responding to the IT. I wish someone had said, “Hey, do a little bit of read up on the OT culture,” I would have loved that. Any advice that you wish you had taken but didn’t? One of the advice that was given to me which I was I had taken but I didn’t was, look at it sort of use-case down, right? We were looking at it sort of problem, ground up, you know, trying to solve technology up, I wish I had – now I do, now we do, we are very use-case centric, but me personally, I was immediately trying to go and solve the problem, rather than use case down, so that was one. Any advice you did take but wish you hadn’t, I think that’s everything, right? It’s a tough one here, right, I mean, with Cisco just being an 800-pound gorilla – I’ll tell you this, Cisco being an 800-pound gorilla, it is a very different market space when it comes to IOT right, and most of them, all of them, you guys are leaders in your world, right, and I acknowledge that one, so that would be something that…don’t walk in as Cisco, sometimes, yes, but walk in as who is that audience that you’re talking to. Yeah.

John Carione: Exactly, get into the fine grained of what the database challenges and use cases are, yeah, that’s really good advice. I try to take that advice on a day-to-day basis, too. So, it’s great having you on the show, Sri, and we are really looking forward to this partnership, of course, and seeing where Cisco goes and is helping lead the market in IOT, and of course helping our customers connect our operations more quickly, see their KPIs and metrics, and get to value as fast as possible, and it’s an exciting future. Thanks again, it’d be great to have you on the show again some time, but thanks so much for your time, and I hope you have a great week.

Sri Srinivasan: Yeah, thank you for the partnership, thank you for joining the program, I’m looking forward to some great things for this partnership. Once again, happy new year, and thank you guys.